• Palestinian death toll rises above 15,900; at least 45 dead in Deir al-Balah air strike
• UN flays ‘safe zones’ proposal; Unicef official says food, water, medicine and shelter completely absent from earmarked sites

GAZA: Israeli forces reached the heart of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, prompted a UN warning that it was impossible to create so-called safe zones for civilians to flee to inside the besieged territory.

Separately, at least 45 people were killed by an Israeli air strike on houses in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, health officials said.

“We have received 45 martyrs from the Israeli bombing on the houses of three families in Deir al-Balah in the past hour,” Dr Eyad Al-Jabri, head of the Shuhada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah told Reuters.

In what appeared to be the biggest ground assault since a truce ended last week, residents said Israeli tanks had entered the eastern parts of Khan Yunis for the first time, crossing from the Israeli border and advancing west. Here, Palestinians who had sought protection from air strikes by camping in the grounds of the city’s Nasser Hospital were seen rolling up their tents and loading cars or donkey carts with piles of mats and blankets.

“We are getting ready to leave Khan Yunis, heading to Rafah. We have been here for about 50 days,” said Abu Omar, a middle-aged man who left his home in the eastern part of the city and had been sheltering at the hospital camp with his family.

Rafah, further south on the border with Egypt, is one of the last remaining areas where the Israeli military has said civilians could go to escape the fighting, although it has still been hit by many air strikes.

“There is no safe place … but at the end, we head to wherever we think there might be a bit of safety,” said Abu Omar, standing by a car whose roof was piled high with possessions.

But in Rafah, displaced people said their living conditions were horrible. There are no bathrooms and water here, not even to wash if we want to pray, said Enas Mosleh, sitting with her children in a shelter made out of wooden slats and transparent plastic sheets.

“We spend all night hearing rockets and bombing. We are living between life and death. We may die at any moment,” she said, her face streaked with tears.

According to health officials, more than 15,900 Palestinians are confirmed to have been killed in Israeli air strikes and other actions, with thousands more missing and feared buried under rubble.

‘Under the rubble’

At Khan Yunis’ main Nasser hospital, the wounded arrived by ambulance, car, flatbed truck and donkey cart after what survivors described as a strike on a school being used as a shelter for the displaced.

Inside a ward, almost every inch of floor space was taken up by the wounded, medics hurrying from patient to patient while relatives wailed.

A doctor carried the small limp body of a dead boy in a track suit and placed him in a corner, arms splayed across the blood-smeared tile.

Outside, men carried corpses in white and bloodied shrouds to be taken away for funerals. Around a dozen bodies lay on the ground. Five or six were taken away in a motorcycle cart.

“Hospitals in the southern Gaza Strip are totally collapsing, they cannot deal with the quantity and quality of injuries that arrive at the hospitals,” he said.

‘Safe zone’

The United Nations said it was impossible to create safe zones for civilians in Gaza. “The so-called safe zones… are not scientific, they are not rational, they are not possible, and I think the authorities are aware of this,” James Elder, spokesman for the Unicef, told reporters in Geneva via video-link from Cairo.

Elder insisted that the safe zones declared by Israel “cannot be safe nor humanitarian when unilaterally declared”.

The pretence that there is somewhere safe for people to flee to is “callous”, he said.

He stressed that in a proper safe zone, “you can guarantee the conditions of food, water, medicine and shelter”.

Elder, who spent the past week or so in Gaza, stressed that none of that is assured in the areas designated as safe zones.

“These are entirely, entirely absent. You cannot overstate this. These are tiny patches of barren land, or they are street corners, they are sidewalks,” he said.

“There is no water, no facilities, no shelter from the cold and the rain (and) there’s no sanitation.”

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2023

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